Over 80 American law firms signed a letter last week making clear their expectations from the best law schools in the US and taking an aggressive stance against any racist or antisemitic speech, harassment and vandalism taking place on campus. The letter made clear: "There is no room for antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism or any other kind of violence, hatred or fanaticism in our work environment and our community."
One of the law firms that signed the letter, which included a veiled threat about future hiring of students from the law schools in question, is DLA Piper, one of the largest law firms in the world, which employs almost 5,000 lawyers in over 40 countries worldwide, including Israel.
Adv. Jeremy Lustman, who leads DLA Piper’s Israel Group, and whose cousin was murdered on October 7, told "Globes" that the firm had no hesitation in signing the letter and stands fully behind its message. "The moment we saw a copy of the letter, there was no question," he recounts. "It takes a stand against hatred and antisemitism and makes clear to schools that are accepting what is taking place on campuses or not taking a strong position on the matter, that we are not feeling good about this."
He says that there was an understanding from the very beginning that it was necessary to take a stand, and, in fact, a previous letter signed by thousands of individual lawyers was circulated denouncing what was happening on campuses. However, the rise in antisemitism and the proliferation of incidents in which Jews have been attacked across the US made it clear that protests needed to intensify.
"Last week, we not only saw a rise in antisemitic acts, but it began to seem like there was an acceptance of antisemitism such that it has become mainstream in the most democratic places - in colleges and in American cities. There has been an increase in antisemitism to levels that we haven’t seen for generations. Law firms saw this and said, "This is terrible. We must express a position,’" explains Lustman. "I hope that other professional communities will act in a similar way."
"Don’t allow any hate speech"
DLA Piper, as mentioned, is a huge law firm. Among its clients are many of the most outstanding companies in the world, including innovative startups and more than half of the Fortune 250 companies.
The firm has been operating in Israel since 2012 and advises over 200 Israeli clients, institutional organizations, and private companies on their overseas activities, worth billions of dollars.
In other words: American students want to find a job at DLA Piper.
In the letter, more than 80 law firms made their red line clear, expressing to law schools across the country that, "As employers who recruit from each of your law schools, we look to you to ensure your students who hope to join our firms after graduation are prepared to be an active part of workplace communities that have zero tolerance policies for any form of discrimination or harassment, much less the kind that has been taking place on some law school campuses."
Behind what might be seen by many Israelis as politeness is actually a veiled threat regarding the firms’ future employment policies for students from institutions that choose to remain on the fence regarding the violence manifesting itself within their walls.
"We are sending a message to the leading law schools in the US, which says: ‘We are looking at you and checking what you are doing,’" explains Lustman. "This is a message that says, ‘We are watching what you do to combat antisemitism on campus, because if you don’t address it successfully, it will influence the way we will look at candidates from your school.’"
Lustman points out that in the US there are major restrictions regarding questions that can be asked during a job interview, and he mentions that it is not yet known what role candidates’ profiles on social media will play. That said, his and his colleagues’ expectation from law schools is clear and unequivocal: The schools must ensure that what we have been seeing in recent weeks simply stops.
"My hope is that the universities will take these matters seriously. Nothing will change until then," he makes clear. "The first step for the universities will be not to allow any hate speech on campuses. There is a fine line in America between freedom of expression, which is protected, and "hate speech," which is not protected. It is one thing for people to say that they care about humanitarian matters in Gaza and another thing to say that they want to kill Jews. The second step for universities will be to create mechanisms to ensure that Jewish students feel safe on campuses, so that there won’t be antisemitic repercussions to hate speech."
"Not signing and staying silent"
There is a history, even in Israel, of law firms leading a social movement, ahead of other professionals. Here, too, Lustman’s hope is that this won’t stop with law firms and won’t end with law schools. "I hope," says Lustman, "that accountants will take a stand, as well as technology and consultancy companies. This is the time for unity and to share values of justice, and to stand together for what is right and what is moral."
He explains, "The hope is that messages will be sent loud and clear to the schools: If you don't act to stop hate speech on campuses, we are taking note and it will affect which candidates we will see, and decisions related to work."
Lustman's words indicate that there is no fear of financial damage to the firm as a result of the clear line it is taking. On the contrary: DLA Piper published the letter on its website and declares for all to see its current credo, exactly as it did regarding the Ukrainian people after the Russian invasion. "It's not that we simply sign our name to a letter and are then silent about it. We are very public about the letter."
He stresses, "It's not a political statement. It's a statement of universal values."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 8, 2023.
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